What a difference a game makes. The Sooners struggled to get the ball into the end zone against Kansas State but bounced back nicely on the road against Texas Tech to put up 41 points and in the process, proved that the offense has multiple weapons.
The Sooners received some great news last night as Fresno State transfer wide receiver Jalen Saunders was cleared by the NCAA and is immediately eligible for this weekend’s game in Dallas. How much he will play remains to be seen but as reported last night, after hearing the news, he was immediately rushed up to where the varsity was playing and inserted into the lineup. If nothing else, that tells you what the coaches think of him. Last year while playing for Fresno, Saunders (who wears #14) was named First Team All-WAC and finished second nationally with 21.4 yards per catch. The 5-9, 160 pound receiver has been practicing on the scout team and was thrilled to hear the news about his status as was Head Coach Bob Stoops.
“He has played a lot of football and played it well,” said Stoops. “We are hopeful that he will be able to play on Saturday. He has great quickness and a great sense of space and the ability to get open.”
Saunders definitely knows how to find the end zone as he finished his sophomore year at Fresno having found pay dirt in 10 of the 13 games last season.
The addition of Saunders should spark an already potent receiving corps as junior Kenny Stills and freshman Sterling Shepard have really been playing well. Another freshman, Durron Neal, came in and showed flashes of speed and allusiveness last week against Tech. With Trey Metoyer struggling to get open and as he is still learning the routes, look for Saunders to get some of Metoyer’s playing time. Justin Brown will anchor the other outside receiver slot giving OU one of the best receiving corps in the country.
Of course, none of that matters if Landry Jones cannot deliver the ball to them. Based off of last week’s game, Jones is back in a big way and his confidence level has returned as well. Jones ended the day against the Red Raiders have thrown for 259 yards and two touchdowns and add to that, two more touchdowns by Blake Bell and the OU quarterbacks accounted for 4 TD’s on the day. It was Jones’ pocket presence that made the difference last week as he stepped up in the pocket on several occasions to deliver strikes to the plethora of wide receivers in his arsenal.
The Sooners will once again go with junior Damien Williams and senior Dom Whaley in hopes to establish a ground game that showed promise last week. Williams ended the day with 140 all purpose yards and Whaley in very limited action, finished with 22 yards on only 2 carries but it was Whaley that had the long run against the Horns last year for the TD. The Sooners also unveiled some new formations against Tech by using multiple personnel to include lining up FB Trey Millard and FB/LB Jaydan Bird in the same backfield along with RB D. Williams as well as using WR’s Sterling Shepard and Kenny Stills at the same time and throwing Millard out in the slot as well. The Sooners didn’t use their tight ends at all last week but look for that to change this week as OU will need Brannon Green’s wide body for blocking purposes and to try and slow down the Texas pass rush.
Speaking of the Texas defense, Jones will need to continue to use his awareness in the pocket and go through his progressions in a hurry as Texas boast two of the best rush ends in the country in Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. Both are relentless pass rushers and will see some success disrupting Jones in the pocket this Saturday. The key will be limiting that success and forcing them inside when the Sooners have outside screens set up.
Both Jeffcoat and Okafor ended last week’s game with only 7 tackles between them but put pressure on West Virginia’s Geno Smith all afternoon. The rest of the Longhorn defensive line is solid as well. Chris Whaley and Desmond Jackson are both big, athletic down lineman that can plug the middle and force opposing ball carriers to bounce it outside. The secondary led by safety’s Kenny Vaccaro and Mykkele Thompson along with corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom are solid but have shown that they have some issues in the tackling department. They defend well against the passes over the top but have shown the propensity to give up some major yardage underneath.
The UT linebacking corps received some good news this week as weakside linebacker Jordan Hicks is expected back to help anchor a unit that has also given up some eye popping yardage on the ground. Tulsa native Demarco Cobbs along with Daingerfield, TX Steve Edmond will team up with Hicks to try and shut down the Sooner ground attack. West Virginia showed that you can have success in both running and passing the ball against Texas but the bottom line is that Texas can put the ball in the end zone as well so it might turn out to be a typical Big XII shootout.
Look for OU to establish the ground game early and mix in the pass in their first 15 scripted plays and whatever works, that is what Heupel will start to focus on. The quarterback edge goes to OU’s Landry Jones even though Texas’ Davis Ash has started to come on. UT doesn’t ask Ash to do too much whereas the Sooner offense is run through Jones and his right arm.
One thing to watch is the matchup between OU’s receivers and UT’s corners. Texas loves to get in your face and play man up and with OU having some young receivers, they will have to figure out a way to get off the line and get open as Landry isn’t going to have much time for patterns to develop before he has to get rid of the ball. It is imperative that Jones has an outlet and he always looks for Stills. Surely the Horn secondary has watched plenty of film and have picked up on this and Stills will be double teamed most of the day so that should leave another OU playmaker in one-on-one coverage. Shepard, Neal, Brown, Metoyer and now Saunders will have to take advantage of that.
The Sooners will have success running the football and that is a good thing since whoever is successful in the running game, usually wins this game. OU is the home team this year therefore all the recruits will be on the OU sideline to watch Landry Jones have another big day through the air and the Sooner ground attack will do just enough to squeeze out a 38-35 victory.